Woods have never been a band of grand gestures. Over nine albums in a dozen years, changes for the Brooklyn indie folk band have been incremental. There was the record where they ditched the tape effects of G. Lucas Crane (2012’s Bend Beyond) to discover that one of their signature elements wasn’t as integral to the group as thought. There was the one that proudly flaunted itself as the first Woods full-length recorded in a “real studio” (2014’s With Light and With Love), a move that stripped lo-fi as a defining characteristic. For a band that’s rivaled in success by both a former member (Kevin Morby) and a soundalike (Whitney), there is an unspoken imperative that their 10th record shifts the status quo, and songwriter and bandleader Jeremy Earl is explicit in stating his intention: Love Is Love is a political album.
The platitude from the days following the 2016 presidential election stated that at least we’d get good music out of the era of Donald Trump. Besides the obvious fallacy that good tunes somehow could make up for contingents of people having their rights stripped, this also ignores that there will be releases of all sorts of quality responding to the political climate. Earl struggles with this notion over the six songs and 31 minutes of Love Is Love. The title alone is a mantra that seeks to gain meaning through its repetition, echoing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s poem at the 2016 Tony Awards dedicated to the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, used here as the core of the record’s bookends. It’s a phrase that sounds better on a picket sign than it does in a real-world application, where it doesn’t take a cynic to note that love’s mere existence isn’t negating laws or bombs or walls.
Earl’s sloganeering doesn’t end there. On “Bleeding Blue,” he reflects on election’s immediate aftermath, with flower-power cadences applied to lines like “Have you heard the news? Hate can’t lose” and “I am the wind/Love’s not dead.” The album’s closing track, “Love Is Love (Sun on Time)” asks “How can we love if this won’t go away? How can we love with this kind of hate?” It’s enough to think Earl might start quoting John Lennon or even Moulin Rouge!. Yes, love is a many splendored thing, but on a lyric sheet announces itself as “A Meditation on Love” and literally ends with a peace sign, the need to have something to say should be predicated by actually having something to say.